As a follow-up to that, I sunk some time into a fuller survey of imagery on Dragon’s covers down through the years. This is what I found.
What I did
I went through every cover of Dragon magazine using the best image I could find - mostly real issues and pdfs, but some off the Paizo website back-issue catalogue here.
For each cover depicting a woman, I recorded:
- Women as either focal (F) or not (N)
- Women as either appealing game avatars (A), submissive (S), or neither (N)
- Women as either suggestively attired (X) or not (N)
Then I did exactly the same for covers with depictions of men.
(Note that I didn’t count kids, most monsters, or dwarves. Yeah, I know, dwarves. Do you know how many Dragon covers have featured dwarves? Lots and lots, that’s how many. I didn’t count them because, to my mind, they don’t “count” in the same way as other non-monstrous humanoids do. Once or twice I did count a monstrous figure that had a human torso, particularly if that torso was a shapely woman with large breasts.)
Because Dragon has sometimes had an irregular publishing schedule, and to ensure there were enough images in each set to be meaningful, I divided the data into 25-issue blocks (1-25, 26-50, and on through to 326-350).
All the raw data is hand-coded at present but if anyone’s keen I’ll take the time to transfer it.
Explaining My Categories
(If there’s a higher-res image available I’ve made the cover image clickable through to it.)
The Focal/Not Focal distinction was to separate out prominent images from minor ones. I could have made this more complicated but decided to keep it simple. A Focal depiction is one where you look at the image and say, Yeah, that figure is the main focus. A Not Focal is one where there are a bunch of figures sharing the spotlight, or where a Focal figure is accompanied by other, less focal figures.
(This category didn’t seem to make much difference in the end.)
Issue 273, July 2000 - this image has a clear Focal character.
Issue 115, November 1986 - this image has no Focal character.
Issue 65, September 1982 - a trickier one. I classed this image as having a Focal character (the guy with the sword in the front centre) and several non-Focal characters (including the woman in the doorway).
I started out coding these separately. Whether a depiction showed a character as being submissive (weak, powerless, deferential, etc.) or not was one category. Whether a depiction showed a character as being an appealing game avatar (I wanna play that guy!) was another. When I finished coding I realized that there were, of course, no crossover points - a submissive figure cannot be an appealing avatar. So I combined these two categories into one.
Of course, these evaluations are very subjective. I tried to be, at the very least, consistent.
Issue 177, January 1992 - my pick for the most sexist cover to ever grace Dragon Magazine. The woman is helpless in a cage, for crying out loud.
Issue 340, Feb 2006. I classed this one as submissive. She’s doing something at least, performing some crazy magic spell, but she’s also on her knees with legs spread towards the reader, and her arms are thrown behind her head in a way that suggests subliminally that she’s tied up or something. That’s how I read it anyway.
Issue 269, March 2000. Not submissive. She’s standing in a neutral mode, not waiting to be rescued or seduced.
Issue 249, July 1998. A male figure who’s submissive. Not many of these to be found.
One of the persistent claims about sexist imagery and the chainmail bikini phenomenon was that ‘there are just as many images of sweaty topless muscular men, so it evens out’. I wanted to test this on the Dragon cover gallery. So I took any buff-looking figure showing some skin as being suggestively attired.
Issue 13, April 1978. Your classic scantily-clad barbarian type. Recorded as Suggestive.
Issue 326, December 2004. Your classic metal-bikini type. Recorded as Suggestive.
Issue 106, Feb 1986. A long way from your classic chainmail bikini, but still enough skin showing to earn a ‘suggestive’ classification.
I also made one or two judgement calls about other images that didn’t fit the “lotsa skin” criteria if I thought they were suggestive anyway. For example, this image of two dark elf women:
Issue 298, August 2002.
They aren’t showing much skin and they sure aren’t submissive, but I decided to class this as ‘suggestive’ because of their lipstick and the form-fitting armour. But mostly the lipstick. I admit this so at least you know where I’m coming from.
Next: some results